At the end of a long discussion of John Kerry’s Vietnam war record, during which Chris Matthews of MSNBC tried to make the controversy out to be a Republican plot, Matthews finally said something that was indisputably true. Matthews said that Kerry has “done more than I ever did for my country?” That’s because Matthews avoided the Vietnam War by enlisting in the Peace Corps and getting a draft deferment.
The comment came during an August 12 show when Matthews tried to discredit Vietnam War and swift boat vet John O’Neill, co-author of Unfit for Command, about Kerry. “You’re a Republican from Texas,” Matthews said, as if O’Neill had been unmasked as a subversive or an alien from outer space. If it had been true, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. After all, Matthews himself is a long-time Democrat who wrote speeches for Jimmy Carter and was chief of staff to Democratic House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, who tried to sabotage President Reagan’s pro-freedom policy in Central America during the 1980s.
But it just wasn’t true that John O’Neill was a Republican. “I would like to answer,” he pleaded with Matthews, “if you’ll give me a chance.” First of all, he said, “I’m not a Republican from Texas.That’s just not true.” Matthews pressed him on it anyway, and the exchange went like this:
Matthews: By the way, disabuse the public who are watching right now what I’m wrong about. Where do you live?
O’Neill: I live in Houston, Texas.
Matthews: OK, you’re a Texan. Have you voted Democrat recently for president?
O’Neill: Absolutely. I haven’t voted for a Republican since 1988. As a matter of fact, I just backed the Democratic mayor of Houston, Bill White.
Matthews: OK, so you’ve voted?you’re generally a Republican or a Democrat when it comes to voting for president?
O’Neill: It depends on the person, Chris.
Matthews: Did you vote for Clinton?
O’Neill: No, actually.
Matthews: Did you vote for Gore?
O’Neill: I voted for Perot twice.
Matthews: OK. Did you vote for Gore?
O’Neill: I voted for Gore. I voted for Gore. I don’t know really why I should go into my voting record.
We don’t understand either, except that it was part of Matthews’ attempt to shift the attention away from John Kerry. This kind of partisan approach is why Matthews continues to flounder in the ratings. Columnist Lew Williams of the Juneau Empire newspaper points out that “poor Chris Matthews” is getting a .4 rating, compared to 1.1 for Larry King of CNN, Hannity & Colmes at 1.6 at Fox, and Bill O’Reilly on Fox at 2.0.
Howard Fineman of Newsweek, who had appeared regularly on the Matthews MSNBC Hardball show, complained publicly about going on the show and getting little time to talk. He says the problem is that Matthews talks too much. Yes, and what he says can be absolutely wrong, as we saw in the John O’Neill case.
Lloyd Grove of the New York Daily News reported that Fineman’s comments angered MSNBC president Rick Kaplan, Hardball executive producer Tammy Haddad, and Matthews. Fineman then offered an apology for telling the truth, hoping he wouldn’t get blackballed from the program.